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Research Sets the Stage for 2020 Census Communications

Thu Nov 01 2018
Written by: Dr. Ron Jarmin, Performing the Nonexclusive Functions and Duties of the Director
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For the 2020 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau has placed a premium on outreach and communications to reach every person throughout the United States no matter where they live or what language they speak. The 2020 Integrated Communications Campaign is instrumental to accomplishing that goal.

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Currently, this campaign is on track and meeting its operational milestones. Census Bureau leadership recently listened to Team Y&R, our partners in this effort, present their high-level findings from the Census Barriers, Attitudes and Motivators Study (CBAMS). And earlier today, Team Y&R presented at the National Advisory Committee (NAC) meeting with an update on their findings.

The 2020 CBAMS proves a much stronger and more robust foundation for our communications strategy than available in prior decennial censuses. It included more than 17,000 responses to a national mail-out survey, alongside 42 focus groups across 11 audiences conducted in five languages.

The extensive research effort yielded rich insights that will inform the subsequent stages of the communications campaign. Some summary observations include:

  • Many of the findings surfacing from the CBAMS survey are consistent with previous Census Bureau research and ongoing data collection efforts. Social science research finds that overall trust in government has been declining for decades. Research shows a similar erosion of trust in major institutions across the private sector. CBAMS data show that distrust in the Census Bureau and government may complicate outreach to some communities.
  • There are persistent knowledge gaps about the 2020 Census scope, purpose and constitutional foundation. There are misperceptions about the purpose of the 2020 Census. Many know the basic census facts, but not much more. Approximately one-third (34 percent) of survey respondents correctly said that conducting the census is required by the Constitution.
  • Connecting census participation to a better future for communities is a powerful motivator. Many survey respondents ranked public services such as hospitals, fire departments and schools as important to them. Focus group participants echoed these sentiments and looked for ways that census data could benefit their communities.

The 2020 Integrated Communications Campaign is incorporating these findings to ongoing partnership, public relations, data dissemination and social media outreach efforts. Stay tuned for the release of the full CBAMS report from the Census Bureau in the near future.

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